No one knew what to expect in Sunday's showdown between the Herts Falcons – newcomers to the National Baseball League – and the reigning champion London Mets.
On Opening Day the Falcons swept the Croydon Pirates and, in doing so, made an assertive debut onto the national stage. The Mets, on the other hand, suffered a surprise clubbing by the Richmond Flames in their first match-up. So, who could predict the state of play in the UK's top-tier of baseball…?
From the first at-bat of Game One it looked like an uphill battle for Herts. Mets leadoff man Callum Woods rocketed a fastball from Nic Goetz deep into the outfield for a triple and immediately scored on a sacrifice fly. Goetz recovered and threw two fly outs to retire the side. The Falcons answered with two runs of their own in the bottom of the 1st, as Jason Greenberg and Kimiyoshi Saionji each worked a walk and crossed the plate on a pair of singles from Darrin Ward and Lin Yuchih.
The Mets kept pecking away at Goetz through the morning, scoring seven more runs by the sixth inning and leading the Falcons by a score of 8-4. Herts sent the hard-throwing Dan Kerry to the mound in the top of the 7th for his Falcons pitching debut. Kerry was unflappable. Although he surrendered two walks, he also worked a fielder's choice and two swinging strikeouts, buckling the Mets batters with his late-breaking curve.
Kerry's work from the mound proved critical as the Falcons went to their last at-bat needing four runs to tie. Kimiyoshi Saionji – hitless for the day as the clean-up designated hitter – led things off with another walk. Kerry and Yuchih followed with walks of their own. London relief pitcher Rob Anthony was struggling with his control, and the Falcons exhibited incredible patience at the plate. But after a mound visit from the Mets manager, Anthony found some command and quickly earned a fly out and a strikeout to bring London within one out of a win.
But the Falcons weren't finished yet. Short stop phenom Luis Goncalves came to the plate and smacked a two-out single, driving home two runs and brining the score to 8-6. Kerry – the man of the hour – then drove his own single up the middle. Yuchih scored easily from third base, and Goncalves was waved around third and slid hard across home plate just before the throw from centerfielder Ran Zeng. Two runs were in and the game was tied.
A wild pitch moved Kerry to third, and then back-to-back walks from Greenberg and Andy Cornish loaded the bases as Sainoji returned to the plate for his second appearance of the inning. The Falcons fans had been screaming with exuberance to this point, but fell silent as Saionji concentrated on the task at hand. He quickly saw two strikes, but remained calm in the batters box, fouled off several pitches, took a few balls and watched the count go full. A smooth, level swing from Saionji squeezed through the gap at second base and the winning run scored easily as the Falcons achieved an incredible 9-8 come-from-behind victory against all odds.
Kerry claimed the win in his first NBL appearance, and went 3-for-5 at the plate with two stolen bases. Yuchih also had three hits, and Goncalves was 1-2 with two runs and 2 RBI.
The Mets, no doubt stung by that loss, came out firing in Game Two and Kyle Hickson smashed a two-run homer as the London side routed Herts 12-2, backed by a dominating pitching performance by Ernesto Bollufer, who gave up only three hits.
Despite the Game Two setback, the Falcons' Aspi Dimitrov reckons his side, with a record of 3-1 out of the gate, are raising a few eyebrows among the baseball fraternity. “It was a big day for the club today with it being our home opener, and to beat such a strong team as the Mets is a fantastic achievement,” Dimitrov said. Falcons Manager Greenberg was less surprised by (but just as proud of)his team's determination. “It takes a lot of mettle to hit in those situations – with two outs and the tying or winning run on base. Kimi and Dan were magnificent today, and it's because of fearless players like them that we'll continue to win games at this level. Make no mistake about it: the Falcons don't plan to lay down for anyone. We'll just get better and better.”
The other action scheduled for Sunday would have seen the Croydon Pirates (0-4) travel to the Bracknell Blazers (2-0), but the BBF gave dispensation for the game to be rescheduled for August to allow Croydon to rebuild their roster.
The Pirates have a bye week coming up, and will be using that time to hold trials as they aim to put together a squad that can challenge in the NBL.
Week 4 action on May 10 will see the Falcons (3-1) host the Richmond Flames (2-2), while the Blazers travel to the Mets (1-3).
|London Mets at Herts Falcons|
|Score By Innings||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||R||H||E|
|Herts Falcons 9, London Mets 8|
|Herts Falcons||London Mets|
|Dan Kerry cf-p||5||2||3||2||Callum Woods ss-c||4||2||3||1|
|Jason Greenberg c||2||1||0||0||Ran Zeng cf||3||0||0||2|
|Andy Cornish lf||4||0||1||2||Rob Anthony 2b-p-ss||1||2||0||0|
|Kimiyoshi Saionji dh-rf||3||2||1||1||Kyle Hickson rf||4||1||2||1|
|Darrin Ward 1b||3||1||2||1||Jason Roberts p-lf||4||1||1||1|
|Lin Yuchih 2b||4||1||3||1||Carlos Diaz 1b-3b||4||0||1||0|
|Riley Fisher 3b||3||0||0||0||Jonathon Crammon lf||2||0||0||0|
|Aspi Dimitrov rf-cf||3||0||0||0||(b6) Reid Wilson 2b||1||0||0||0|
|Luis Goncalves ss||2||2||1||2||Martin Stabe 3b||2||0||0||0|
|Nick Goetz p||0||0||0||0||(b5) Josh Chetwynd 1b||0||0||0||0|
|Tomas Bird 2b-c||1||1||1||0|
|(b3) Carl Randall 2b-ss||3||1||1||1|
|TEAM TOTALS||29||9||11||9||TEAM TOTALS||29||8||9||6|
|E: Dan Kerry, Jason Greenberg, Darrin Ward. DP: London Mets 1, Herts Falcons 1. LOB:
London Mets 9, Herts Falcons 11. 2B: Callum Woods, Kyle Hickson. 3B: Callum Woods,
Carl Randall. SB: Dan Kerry(2), Luis Goncalves(2), Callum Woods, Carl Randall, Rob
Anthony. CS: Andy Cornish. SF: Ran Zeng(2).
|Dan Kerry W||1.00||0||0||0||2||2|
|Rob Anthony L||1.00||4||5||5||4||1|
|WP: Nick Goetz(2), Rob Anthony. T: 2:45. A: 89.|
|London Mets at Herts Falcons|
|Score By Innings||1||2||3||4||5||6||R||H||E|
|London Mets 12, Herts Falcons 2|
|London Mets||Herts Falcons|
|Callum Woods 3b-p||4||1||2||3||Dan Kerry cf-p||3||0||0||1|
|Carl Randall 2b||3||1||2||1||Andy Cornish lf||2||0||0||0|
|(b4) Martin Stabe 2b-3b||1||0||0||0||Lin Yuchih 1b-rf||3||0||0||0|
|Rob Anthony ss||3||2||2||2||Darrin Ward p-1b||3||0||0||0|
|Jason Roberts lf||3||0||0||0||Kimiyoshi Saionji 2b||3||0||1||0|
|(b5) Jonathon Crammon lf||1||0||0||0||Riley Fisher c||1||1||1||0|
|Kyle Hickson cf||4||3||3||3||Aspi Dimitrov rf-cf||1||0||0||0|
|Josh Chetwynd 1b||3||1||1||1||(b6) Jason Greenberg cf||1||0||1||0|
|Carlos Diaz dh||3||1||1||0||Nick Goetz 3b||1||1||0||0|
|(t6) Ran Zeng dh||1||0||0||0||Luis Goncalves ss||1||0||0||0|
|Reid Wilson rf||4||1||1||0|
|Rodolfo Matos c||1||2||1||0|
|Ernesto Balufer p-2b||0||0||0||0|
|TEAM TOTALS||31||12||13||10||TEAM TOTALS||19||2||3||1|
|DP: London Mets 1. LOB: London Mets 5, Herts Falcons 6. 2B: Josh Chetwynd. HR: Kyle
Hickson. SB: Kyle Hickson, Rob Anthony, Josh Chetwynd, Nick Goetz. SB: Aspi Dimitrov.
|Ernesto Balufer W||5.33||3||2||2||6||6|
|Darrin Ward L||4.00||10||9||7||1||1|
HBP: by Dan Kerry (Rob Anthony). WP: Ernesto Balufer(2), Darrin Ward. Balk: Darrin
Ward. T: 2:40. A: 89.